Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Society plans to put historic records online 6/22/2004 12:59PM
St. Louis Genealogical Society is entering information so that others will have access.

ST. LOUIS — Long before Ellis Island opened in 1892, immigrants were pouring through St. Louis in the 19th century, leaving a trail of hopes for U.S. citizenship in naturalization papers that are still stored in the circuit court here. German-born brewery magnate Adolphus Busch Sr. and Hungarian-born newspaper-man Joseph Pulitzer were among them, naturalized a month apart here in February and March 1867. The dusty, dog-eared ledgers of citizenship applicants were indexed, on pencil-scrawled 3 by 5 cards, in a 1930s federal works project. Now, 70 years later, volunteers with the St. Louis Genealogical Society, in conjunction with the Missouri State Archives and St. Louis Circuit Court, have made it easier for genealogists and scholars to trace the roots of those immigrants.

Starting last October, society volunteers spent 1,600 hours consolidating, alphabetizing and replacing deteriorating cards from three St. Louis courts — two of them no longeroperational — where immigrants applied for naturalization from 1816 to 1906. Volunteers are in the process of typing names, dates, country of origin and other information from the 93,203 cards, which soon will be available on the Genealogical Society's Web site, board member Ann Fleming said. The original record books are at the Circuit Court Clerk's office; they are available on microfilm at the city Circuit Court archives, Missouri State Archives, and St. Louis city and county public libraries. Don't look for names of naturalized married women and children, however, state archivist Kenneth Winn said. Naturalization records don't include their names until 1906.

"This will open records to millions of people wanting to trace their family's history," said Fleming, who is also president of the National Genealogical Society in Washing-ton. "Because of the (Mississippi and Missouri) rivers, St. Louis was on the migratory path. Immigrants could be naturalized in St. Louis, but their families could end up some-where else." St. Louis Circuit Clerk Mariano Favazza, the historical records' official keeper, said the court records predate Missouri's entry as a U.S. territory and state. He said the project will have an impact beyond St. Louis.

Eventually, the project partners want to digitize all records and create a computer search engine that would scour them when a family name is typed in. Winn said St. Louis in the 1800s was a "veritable Ellis Is-land of the Midwest," with people entering from the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. By 1850, 43 percent of St. Louis consisted of Irish or German immigrants. During the Civil War, St. Louis had the highest per-capita immigrant population in the country. By the 1880s, German immigration had peaked in the city. Winn said making the naturalization records more accessible will help scholars study immigration patterns and the city's early urban life. His office recently launched on its Web site a coroner's inquest data-base of unusual deaths in St. Louis and various counties dating from the 1800s. The St. Louis Genealogical Society also has marriage, death, burial and probate records from the 1800s and early 1900s.

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